Donald Trump

US government shuts down after midnight deadline passes, with White House rushing to blame Democrats 

Republicans needed 60 votes to advance the bill under Senate rules but the legislation only received the support of 50 senators

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 10:29am

US President Donald Trump marked the first anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday with his government in shutdown, accusing Democrats of taking Americans hostage with their demands.

The US government officially shut down at midnight on Friday after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a last-minute deal to fund its operations, divided in a bitter dispute over immigration and border security.

An effort by Republicans to keep the government open for one month failed in a vote on Friday night as it did not address Democratic concerns about young undocumented immigrants know as Dreamers. 

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the Democrats’ insistence that the interim measure include protection for Dreamers killed the deal. 

Watch: What Trump said about government shutdown under Obama

“Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown,” she declared, referring to the minority leader, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who met with Trump earlier on Friday. “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans.

“We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands.”

Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell echoed the White House’s language, but Schumer fought back, blaming Trump for leading him to believe a deal was possible on the immigration dispute but then failing to bring his own party along. 

“Every American knows the Republican Party controls White House, the Senate, the House – it is their job to keep the government open. It is their job to work with us to move forward,” Schumer told the Senate. “They control every ounce of the process and it is their responsibility to govern and here they have failed.”

Every American knows the Republican Party controls White House, the Senate, the House – it is their job to keep the government open
Chuck Schumer

Republicans needed 60 votes to advance the bill under Senate rules but the legislation only received the support of 50 senators. Five red state Democrats broke ranks to support the bill while four Republicans voted against. 

The president had muddied the waters on Thursday by criticising the House bill for its extension of the popular children’s health insurance programme (Chip). 

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said it was clear Republicans were far from on the same page as the figure head of their party. 

“You’ve got the three branches of government – everything,” Wyden said. “Can these folks organise a two-car parade?” 

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania also expressed his aggravation with conservative Republicans of the Freedom Caucus who had pushed a hard line on immigration. “I wasn’t elected to genuflect to the Freedom Caucus.” 

Other Democrats expressed frustration with the entire spectacle, arguing that both sides were allowing political motivations to drive their position. 

“I think in their minds they’re being reasonable,” Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said of his own party. “The same way the Republicans who’ve taken a hardline stance think they’re being reasonable.” 

On Thursday, the House voted by a margin of 230-197 to advance the bill after speaker Paul Ryan made concessions to conservative Republicans in the Freedom Caucus. 

These included a vote on increased military funding, a potential vote on a hardline immigration bill and other “subplots”, which Mark Meadows, the head of the Freedom Caucus, declined to share with reporters. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with only six Democrats and 11 Republicans breaking ranks. 

The bill did not contain any provisions to protect Dreamers, which has been a key Democratic priority since Trump announced in September that he was rescinding an Obama-era programme, known as DACA. The programme enabled young, undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children to obtain temporary legal status. 

After the bill passed the House, Ryan preemptively tried to blame Democrats for any government shutdown, telling reporters: “The only people standing in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats.” 

In a final dash to avert a shutdown, Trump cancelled plans to depart for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where the president was due to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office. Instead, Trump spent the day negotiating with congressional leaders. 

But despite hosting Senate minority leader Schumer in the Oval Office on Friday afternoon, the sides were unable to reach an agreement. 

The only people standing in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats
Paul Ryan, House Speaker

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump critic turned confidant who helped craft a bipartisan bill to protect Dreamers, entreated the president to “close the deal”. 

As lawmakers scrambled to chart a path forward, progressive activists and Dreamers held a rally against the illuminated backdrop of the US Capitol. They implored lawmakers to reject any funding measure that did not include a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 700,000 Dreamers whose protections will expire in March barring intervention from Congress. 

“For all those Dreamers out there, our message for each and every one of you: there are those in our government that see you, that hear you, that believe and know that this country belongs to you,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy III, a Democrat of Massachusetts, who repeated the message in Spanish. 

Funding for the government was initially due to expire in September, but lawmakers have since passed a series of stopgap measures to keep operations running in the absence of a long-term spending deal. 

The last short-term extension, which was passed in December, pushed the deadline to 19 January while leaving the fate of Dreamers in limbo. Democrats subsequently faced backlash from immigration advocates and their base for failing to hold the line on DACA after having vowed not to adjourn for the new year without a solution. 

Trump gave Congress until 5 March to replace the programme. But Democrats have insisted the only way to resolve the deep partisan divide over immigration is by tying it to a must-pass bill that would simultaneously avert a shutdown and enshrine protections for Dreamers into law. 

Trump showed a brief willingness to compromise last week by engaging lawmakers from both parties on a potential deal to legalise Dreamers in return for strengthening border security and changes to certain visa programmes. But the president dramatically undermined bipartisan talks by questioning the need to admit immigrants from places like Haiti and El Salvador, dismissing them “shithole countries” in a private meeting with lawmakers. 

Republicans meanwhile chose to move ahead with a short-term bill to fund the government, arguing that immigration was a separate issue to be dealt with at a later time. In a bid to apply pressure on Democrats, they also included in their measure a six-year authorisation of Chip, which provides health care coverage to 9 million children, expired in October. 

The White House signalled it was bracing for a shutdown, with Trump teasing the prospect on more than one occasion Friday. 

As lawmakers continued to huddle behind closed doors, the president tweeted: “Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy.” 

Federal law requires agencies to shut down if Congress has not appropriated money to fund them. In previous shutdowns, services deemed “essential”, such as the work of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, have continued. 

Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse